TRUTH: The Flaw In Objectivism & The Libertarian Ideal

The past few days have found me debating the merits of the modern Libertarian movement with a friend and fellow blogger on The Rio Norte Line.  Then, just this morning, I read another post by the owner of that blog in which he cites a line from one of the central characters of Atlas Shrugged, the novel from which the Rio Norte Line draws its name.  That quote got me to thinking about the inherent flaw in the Libertarian ideal.  It is the same flaw inherent in Ayn Rand’s political philosophy.  In the novel, the character of John Galt sums up the central thought of the Libertarian ideal this way:

 “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Unfortunately, as the founders of the American Revolution discovered for themselves, no society organized on the ideal expressed in these words can long survive.

So that this post will not be any longer than it already must be, there is a great deal I have to assume the reader already knows about concerning the subjects I will mention in connection with the issue at hand.  For those who may not be as familiar as I assume, I have made an attempt to provide some necessary hyper-links to additional information on the related matters upon which I will touch.  Still, as difficult and as lengthy as this will be, I hope the reader will stay with me, as I believe I may be able to help shed some light on my personal opposition to the modern Libertarian movement.  It is the same as my opposition to Ayn Ran’s political philosophy.  Nor do I want to be misunderstood: there is a lot of common ground between my personal beliefs and those of the objectivist and Libertarian.  I am not hostile to them.  It’s just that their philosophy does not and cannot work in practice anymore than Marx’s ideal of Communism.  None of them are based in the realities of human nature and Natural Law.

Rand’s political philosophy, objectivism, is a good place to start, as few dedicated Libertarians would offer much objection to the principles of objectivism.  In short, the problem with objectivism, and with the Libertarian ideal, is that both attempt to formulate a universal system of morality based on man’s reason.  It is a basic rule of logic that, if a universal moral law exists, then it cannot be man-made as man can devise an infinite number of sound, valid and rational systems of moral laws.  Furthermore, it is possible for man to create an infinite number of such moral laws that conflict and/or contradict each other.  This means that man cannot create a universal moral law.

This brings us to another point we need to understand.  By moral law, I mean a law over which man has no control – such as gravity or inertia.  We can argue definitions until we lose track of the issue, but for the purpose of this post, when I use the term universal moral law, I am referring to what is commonly called Natural Law.  When I use the term law, I mean a universal principle that is above man’s control, such as the laws of physics.  I consider those beliefs that differ from society to society to be better defined as “culture,” and those laws that are devised by men as “social conventions.”

Now, since both Rand and the Libertarian ideal argue for a universal principle of right and wrong, they are – by default – arguing for a universal moral law.  However, as both tend to reject the existence or need for a Creator to set that moral law, both are also arguing that man can make this universal moral law.  In the case of objectivism, this means there is an internal contradiction in Rand’s philosophy.  The Libertarian ideal suffers from the same problem: the inability of man to create a universal moral law.  In short, both Rand and the Libertarian are relying on the genius of man as a substitute for the necessity of the Creator.

“They (the French) have taken genius instead of reason for their guide, adopted experiment instead of experience, and wander in the dark because they prefer lightning to light.”
Gouverneur Morris,

The key ingredient that is missing from Rand’s objectivism and from the majority of Libertarian notions of liberty is God.  God is the necessary fallacy.  Without Him, there can be no such thing as a universal moral law, and without such a law, man can make no claim to having rights in any form.  Nor can man claim that freedom is his natural state.  Without a universal moral law, there can be no right or wrong at all, and without rights and wrong, there can be no such thing as good or bad.  Logically speaking, all of these things are absurdities unless there exists a universal moral law.  And again, basic logic dictates that for such a law to exist, there must be a law giver above the authority of man – and even the rules of logic.  This is one of the reasons that Voltaire said words to this effect:

“If there were no God, it would be necessary for man to create him.”

But there is another aspect of this issue that often goes unmentioned, and that is the connection between individual rights and our duty to society.  Society is not real.  It has no rights, and no authority save that which we give it as members of a society.  Society can never become an entity unto itself, nor can it ever claim a position greater than that of the lowliest member within it.  When such things occur, it is always the work of designing men and women who seek power and control.  The founders knew this.  It is why they wrote the Constitution so that it placed restrictions on the ability of such men to use the government to abuse their fellow citizens.

“Human beings will generally exercise power when they can get it, and they will exercise it most undoubtedly in popular governments under pretense of public safety.”

“Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”

Daniel Webster

The founders knew that they could devise a governmental system that might – for a time – protect the people from themselves but, if the people were to become corrupt, they would eventually lose their individual rights and liberty to those who seek to rule over others:

“Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue.”

John Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men, 1776

The founders understood that these failings in human nature placed a duty upon every citizen to remain moral and virtuous so as to guard against becoming one of those who would seek power over others, and to protect the rest of the community from those who failed in this duty.  This duty to our community means we have a claim against our neighbor as part of our agreement to live within that community.  It is the essence of the Social Contract, and this is something both Rand and the Libertarian would deny as it places an external restraint on what they consider to be their liberty.  Unfortunately, what Rand and the Libertarian do not seem to understand or accept is that, without this voluntary restriction on our personal actions, there can be no preservation of our rights and, thus, no liberty.  Once again, our founders understood this, and it is why the asserted that a free and self-governing society can only be sustained if the people remain moral and that morality can only exist in connection with religion.  Furthermore, they were very clear as to which religion they thought best, at least for the purposes of creating a free and self-governing nation:

“Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. The divine law, as discovered by reason and the moral sense, forms an essential part of both.”

“The law of nature and the law of revelation are both Divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is indeed preposterous to separate them from each other.”

James Wilson

“The command of God is ‘ He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in fear of God.’ 2 Sam. 23:3. This command prescribes the only effectual; remedy for public evils. It is an absurd and impious sentiment, that religious character is not necessary for public officers…But surely as there is a God in heaven who exercises a moral government over affairs of this world, so certainly will the neglect of the divine command, in the choice of rulers, be followed by bad laws, crimes, waste of public money, and a thousand other evils. Men devise and adopt new forms of government; they amend old forms, repair breaches, and punish violators of the constitution; but there is, there can be, no effectual remedy, but obedience to The Divine Law.”

“The religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of governments.

~Noah Webster

“Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be trusted on any other foundation than religious principle, not any government secure which is not supported by moral habits…. Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”

“If we and our posterity reject religious instruction and authority, violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us that shall bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”

Daniel Webster

“[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be aid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.  Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”  

“We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by the means of the Bible. For this Divine Book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism.”

— Benjamin Rush

“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure, which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”

— Charles Carroll

“If the Moral character of a people degenerate, their political character must follow. These considerations should lead to an attentive solicitude to be religiously careful in our choice of all public officers…and judge of the tree by its fruits.”

Elias Boudinot

“…we have a dangerous trend beginning to take place in our education….We’ve become accustomed of late to putting little books in the hands of children containing fables with moral lessons. We are spending less time in the classroom on the Bible, which should be the principle text in our schools. The Bible states these great moral lessons better than any other man made book.”

“[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.” 

Fisher Ames

Now I ask the reader who is familiar with Rand and/or the modern Libertarian movement: do you really think either would accept the notion that the Christian religion is essential to the preservation of individual rights and liberty, let alone that it should be taught in our public schools?  The founders not only believed it, they not only said so, they actually placed it into practice.  But it is because our schools have been taken over by the very likes of those from whom our founders sought to protect us that we do not know this.  The reason one will not find much about the necessity of religion for good government in the Constitution is because the Constitution is a document governing the States (i.e. federal government).  What people seem to think the founders should have done if they had wanted religion in the public square is there – in the State Constitutions! 

This is my primary objection to objectivism and to the Libertarian ideal: that they do not recognize the connection between the Judea/Christian ethic (including our duty to others) as being essential to the preservation of individual rights and liberty.  Our founders did and the nation they built worked – up until the people started to reject the foundation upon which the founders built this nation.  And if one looks, one will find that the further this nation has strayed from God, the more and more it has become like Europe.  There is a reason the French Revolution did not free the world and the American Revolution did, and it is the difference between God’s law and man’s.

[PLEASE NOTE: I intentionally avoided using quotes from the better known founders.  But please do not think I did so because they disagreed with the sentiments in the quotes I cited.  In truth, I could have used Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, and a few others to say exactly the same thing.  I chose to use lesser known founders to stress that this is what the leaders, and thus our nation believed at the time of our founding, and to show that this is the formula which succeeded whereas that of the Libertarian/French Revolution ideal did not.  I know this post was lengthy, I only hope it served you in some way.]

8 thoughts on “TRUTH: The Flaw In Objectivism & The Libertarian Ideal

  1. I think you, like many who take Rand at face value, make a mistake in interpretation of Rand’s use of Galt to say “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” This is only a variance on Locke’s idea that a man’s person and his productivity belongs to him and him alone. This quote does not exclude God at all, it implies that if everyone does his or her best to succeed, it improves the lot of all. It also compares to the Biblical admonition to avoid the sin of envy by not expecting to reap the productivity of other people.

    Galt’s quote also does not preclude people coming together to execute actions of mutual benefit, nor does it exclude the possibility of Christian charity – only that the individual has the right to choose the imperative that best benefits them.

    “…do you really think either would accept the notion that the Christian religion is essential to the preservation of individual rights and liberty, let alone that it should be taught in our public schools?” – trick question, because a true libertarian would not even support “public” schools in the sense we know them today – they would support “private” schools funded by like-minded people and teaching whatever curriculum those who supported the school wanted.

    The Founders wrote in the Constitution that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”, this seems to be in line with the libertarian ideal.

    1. Utah,

      Have you ever seen any interviews with Rand? It could be I take her on face value because she said we should — at least on this issue she did. Read the 4 principles of objectivism. I linked to Rand’s cite so as to cite the best authority possible. The 4 principles DO say the highest moral ideal is to the individual. It is not that we CAN’T chose to live for others, it is that — according to Rand — the highest ideal is to live for ourselves. That means — according to her — a hedonistic society “could” be the ideal. You will not get such a society to remain free. All you will get is a group of people demanding the right to do drugs, fornicate and be left to do whatever they will. This is because my critique was two fold: Rand does not address the realities of human nature any more than Marx. So I think my critique is valid — for these and the logical reasons I stated in my post. Naturally, you are free to disagree 🙂

      As for why the founders left the matter of religion open in the Constitution: again, look to the STATES, not the federal Constitution. You will find your answer to your question there. However, they actually spoke to the possibility of another religion and they said that before they would see the nation given to Atheists, they would rather it go to the Muslims. Rather strong words in favor of SOME sort of religion, don’t you think?

  2. Interesting, definitely points to ponder, I would wish to comment but the overall rhetoric is very copious, and would be in need of a equally copious response. Sadly, I do not have the time!! I am more interested in your blogging methods. I, having a classics background, also have an interest in law, but when writing I am constantly thumbing through constitutions, commentaries from Joseph Story, William Blackstone, or papers of founding fathers. Most of your post I shall say that if I don’t agree with are riveting, they are done on a grand scale, I will applaud that effort!

    1. phadde,

      Contrary to what many of my critics may like to believe, I do not hold the opinion that people must agree with everything I say. True, I do believe there are some absolute truths in the world, but, for the most part, we are all here to reach whatever understanding of the world we will. Nor do I think that I am above making mistakes. While I am fairly certain of my understanding of basic logic and right reasoning, most of what I know of Natural Law is self-derived using my understanding of logic. It wasn’t until later years that I discovered I had been covering ground already covered by far greater thinkers than myself. Also, the majority of what I have learned about our founding has been self-taught. The same for my understanding of Scripture. And while this may be a handicap in the eyes of some, I view it as more of a benefit — as I have been forced to learn directly from those who wrote their own thoughts rather than those who have commented on them. Original sources are always best and, strangely enough, often seem to be much different from what others think them to be and say.

      Anyway, given all this, if I have managed to write something that either serves by sharing what I have learned or causes another to think, then I believe I have done all I am asked to do. I hope this is the case with you.

      Thanks for your comment and Happy New Year to you! 🙂

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